• Preventing Theft of Bike Parts: Our Definitive Guide

    by Scott

    Here’s an all-too-common occurrence: You walk out of a coffee shop or bookstore and breath an initial sigh of relief when you see that your bike is still there. But then you look closer and … damnit. Someone snagged your saddle while you were gone.

    So how do you prevent those sticky-fingered jaggoffs from getting your wheels, saddles, and other bike parts that a lock won’t cover?

    As I’ve written before here it’s happened to me, and I’m pretty sure that by this point Ash has had just about every part of his bike stolen (this was just the first time, since then he’s lost another wheel and his saddle). The most sure-fire way to prevent bike theft would be to equip your ride with a motion-activated bike alarm to scare the thieves away as soon as they disturb your bike (coming soon!). But until then here are some other tricks of the trade to theft-proof your bike.

    Wheels

    Probably the best thing to do is to take off your front wheel and place it next to the rear one so that you can lock up everything at once. This is definitely the most secure, but can also be time consuming when you’re just leaving your bike for a short period of time. 

    Another option for securing your wheels is to use special locking skewers. These differ from quick release skewers or regular bolt-on wheels in that they can only be opened by using a special key. This is probably the most secure way to keep your wheels on your bike, but if (like me) you tend to be forgetful you might be concerned about losing your keys or forgetting to take them with you. This could be a problem if, say, you’re far from home, get a flat, and realize you can’t change it because you can’t get the wheel off, so you have to cab it back. Since convincing the only taxi driver willing to pick you up on the back-country road you flatted out on to drive you back to the city in your sweaty biking gear with your bike hanging out the back of their car is beyond the scope of this blog, I’ll just tell you my solution to the problem instead.

    My preferred solution (when I don’t have time to remove the front wheel and lock it up with the frame) is to use a bigass chain for my frame and rear wheel, then loop a heavy-duty cable through my front wheel. I’ve said before that cables aren’t a good idea and, well, they aren’t. If someone wanted my wheel badly enough they could still cut through the cable and take it, but by locking it in heavily-trafficked areas and not leaving it for too long I can cut down on their chances of getting my wheel.

    Saddles and Seatposts

    The theft of a saddle is more annoying than incapacitating, since you can still ride your bike home. But it can be dangerous since your center of gravity is higher than it normally would be, and depending on the distance you may get tired from having to stand the entire time. Not to mention the downtime you suffer until you can make it to the bike shop for a replacement, or the pain in the ass that can result from forgetting you don’t have a saddle and trying to sit down.

    But there are a couple of ways to stop any would-be saddle-pinching douche-nozzles in their tracks. Like with wheels, special locking bolts can be purchased that can only be opened with a unique key. But if you’re going for style points then nothing beats a chain looped around the saddle and your frame, then cut to a length that leaves no slack. This should be done after you’ve got your seat height dialed in of course, but will put off anyone without a chain breaker or hacksaw and the will to stand there hacking away for your saddle.

    If looks or weight are an issue for you, then a more streamlined approach to thwarting thieves would be to put a ball bearing that fits snugly into the openings in and then super glue it in place. Again, this is to be done after you’ve found your ideal height and tightened everything down thoroughly, but once in place it’s pretty bullet-proof. When the need arises, you can always dissolve the super glue with an organic solvent like acetone and pry out the bearing.

    Another option that is less secure but less of a hassle to undo is to drip candle wax into any screw holes. You want to be careful both that you don’t get any on you, and that nobody sees you squatting over your bike dripping candle wax onto it because then you’ll have a lot of uncomfortable questions to answer from people who already think that maybe you spend too much time with your bike (ignore them). You could also use a glue that melts at a low temperature, and then carry a lighter around with you in case you want to reserve the ability to make on-the-fly adjustments (which are not possible with a ball bearing stuck in there).

    Miscellaneous (Lights, Computers, and Bags, etc.)

    The best advice for bags is to remove them and take them with you, or failing that padlock them shut so that at least thieves can’t steal stuff out of them. Fortified Bicycle Alliance (no affiliation) makes locking bike lights that can’t be removed without a special key. But for other bike lights your best bet is to remove them when you park your bike. The same goes for computers, with the best deterrent being to remove the computer itself or the receiver (depending on how easy this is with your particular make and model), but if this isn’t practical then just go with a cheap computer that hopefully no one will steal or that you won’t miss if it does get nicked.

    Final Thoughts

    As you can see, the methods detailed above highlight one of the major problems with using a hodge-podge of partial solutions to the problem of bike theft, which is that there are always trade-offs in terms of security, time, ease of use, portability, and so on. Carrying the best locks or using the best but most time-consuming techniques described above for securing your parts can be a hassle, but skimp on security and you might find yourself with an unplanned walk home as you drag your crippled bike behind you. There’s no perfect solution, so each rider has to use their own judgment and pick the best mix of security devices and techniques that suit them and are appropriate to where they live and lock their bikes. Best of luck!

    Got a great tip that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments!

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